Improving Patient Satisfaction Through Efficient Communications

Hemant Goel

Communication is the common thread through most areas of the HCAHPS survey where patients identify dissatisfaction, with 10 questions specificallty targeting the issue.

Hospitals and clinics have tracked patient-satisfaction metrics for decades to gauge the perceptions of their facilities and improve services.

Interest in this topic has significantly increased in recent years because reimbursements for care are now partially influenced by scores on patient surveys—such as the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Health Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) survey. These financial incentives have precipitated a closer look at the entire patient experience.

This is not surprising, because poor communications can affect the entire patient experience, from delayed admission and slow response for nurse call requests, to interrupted sleep and a lengthy discharge process. Communication is a common thread through most areas of the HCAHPS survey where patients identify dissatisfaction, with 10 questions specifically targeting the issue.

Here are five areas where communications can affect the patient experience.

While these two processes are on opposite ends of a atient stay, admission and discharge are similar because they require coordinating multiple departments and ndividuals.Delays are usually caused by inefficient communications among various departments and staff, ncluding housekeeping, transport, physicians, nurses, the pharmacy, and more. Patients don’t see all the steps required and can grow frustrated while waiting. Communications can be simplified with automated messaging on mobile devices to alert key staff of required actions.Saving time at each stage of the process leads to better patient flow and happier, more satisfied patients.
For example, Lake Norman Regional Medical Center in Mooresville, NC, has simplified this process with an intelligent messaging solution. When a patient is discharged, notifications are automatically sent to a largely
mobile group of employees: housekeeping, transport, and any other pertinent staff. This eliminates unnecessary
time spent calling individuals and waiting for answers. Transport-staff responses are immediate, reducing patient
discharge times and improving satisfaction. Instant messaging to environmental staff also improves bed turnover by decreasing response times and increasing room availability, which improves patient satisfaction through faster admissions.

Thousands of diagnostic test results are processed daily in hospitals, in the lab, radiology, and other areas.Within each of these departments, communicating the results is still largely a manual process with multiple phone calls (often in a game of tag with the ordering physicians), and documenting everything in a log book. What does this
mean for the patient? Extra waiting that could be avoided. Waiting for test results can be annoying if findings are clear and the patient could be released to go home. On the other end of the spectrum, patients with life-threatening
conditions could experience complications from delayed treatment. Both of these situations can be improved with
workflows that automate the results-notification process.

EMH Healthcare in Elyria, OH, has done precisely that. Using a critical-test-results management solution, they have improved the workflows of both radiologists and ER physicians. “We have eliminated the need for radiology
nurses to track reports and dictations, maintain a document log, and make calls to notify ER physicians,” said Michelle Dossa, Manager, Department of Imaging Services for EMH Healthcare.This means providers at EMH Healthcare have more time to focus on patient care, patients receive faster treatment, and both staff and patients are happier.

How quickly staff members respond to a patient’s call for help can have a large impact on patient happiness, and two questions on the HCAHPS survey specifically ask about staff responsiveness to calls for assistance.

To tackle this challenge, Lake Norman Regional Medical Center selected a two-way communication solution between patients and nurses. “We wanted to improve nurse responsiveness,” said Brian Bissonnette, Director of
Information Systems at Lake Norman. “It was one category on patient surveys that repeatedly showed an opportunity for increased satisfaction.” The solution includes escalation rules to alert another caregiver automatically if necessary, and it maintains a full audit trail for internal analysis and improvement initiatives.Overall, nurses are able to care for patients more efficiently and respond to queries faster.

Coordinating provider communication is an indirect method of enhancing the patient experience by focusing on the clinical avenues for improving outcomes. Patient satisfaction scores may not directly correlate to quality of care,but quality makes a difference. Poor communication among hospital staff is recognized as a barrier to patient safety, and disorganized communication among providers causes inefficiencies with treatment planning and care coordination.Leading hospitals are already successfully using mobile devices and intelligent software to improve provider communications, enhance care-team coordination, reduce patient length of stay, and boost patient satisfaction.

For example, The Ottawa Hospital in Ontario, Canada, is using secure messaging to improve communication
among staff, including code call notifications.“Staff can easily communicate with one another on all the different devices they carry,” said Margaret Quirie, Director, Library Services and Telecommunications at The Ottawa Hospital.Physicians are pleased to be able to use their smartphones for smoother communications, message tracking, and detailed replies.By finding the right person quickly, it’s easier for the care team to create a better care plan, which equals better care.

Research has shown how important sleep is to mental and physical health, as well as for the healing process. Noise not only disrupts patient healing, but it is also a common source of dissatisfaction. Some hospitals are using technology to foster a quieter environment by reducing overhead announcements and hallway phone conversations.PinnacleHealth System in Harrisburg, PA, is using technology to route messages to staff and reduce overhead paging and noisy hallway conversations. “We used to use phones to call and ask for beds to be moved. Now, when a text is sent instead, there’s not the noise of someone talking on the phone and walking down the hall. It’s an efficient method that is also more discreet,” said Chris Hunsinger, Telecommunications Technician for PinnacleHealth System.

The overarching suggestion for boosting patient satisfaction is frequent, efficient, and timely communication, whether it’s in person with the patient, among care providers, or between hospital systems and staff. Replacing manual processes with efficient technology solutions that support fast, mobile communications will increase patient safety and result in more satisfied patients, from admissions to discharge.

Contributed by Hemant Goel, COO, Spok, Inc. Spok is a leader in critical communications for health care, government, public safety, and other industries.Organizations worldwide rely on Spok for workflow improvement, secure texting, paging services, contact center optimization, and public safety response.